It’s guava time over here in South Africa and the soft, squishy fruits are tumbling from the trees with alarming regularity.
Personally, I hate guavas, but my chickens are rather partial to them. I was a little concerned that they might find the pips difficult to digest, but a few guavas a day seems to be doing the flock the world of good.
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Even the stubbornly featherless hen has started to flourish!
Watching them peck away at guavas made me wonder what other fruits chickens enjoy, and which they can safely consume.
Guavas, for example, are better peeled than with the skin on, apparently, but as chickens don’t have opposable thumbs and I have no intention of peeling the fruit for them, they’ll have to make do.
Fortunately, the skin won’t kill them, unlike avocado skins that contain the toxin, persin. If chickens eat too much of this, they’ll develop potentially fatal respiratory problems.
So, what about other fruits, like cherries? Is it safe for chickens to eat cherries, or could they choke on the cherry pits?
Chickens and Cherries
Although we can’t grow cherries in our sub-tropical environment, a friend of mine has an orchard of cherry trees that her chickens have free access to.
I asked her if she’d ever experienced any problems with her flock eating different types of cherries and she looked at me as though I’d lost my mind.
According to her, although the cherry pips do contain small amounts of cyanide, the chickens avoid them at all costs, focusing on the juicy flesh of her wild cherries, rather than the indigestible stone.
Cherries Contain a Lot of Sugar
A bigger concern than whether your chickens will choke on the cherry pits is the fruit’s high sugar content.
Just as too much sugar can cause obesity in humans, it’s also bad for your backyard chickens and, as one cup of cherries contains around 18g of sugar, you must ensure your chickens don’t over-indulge.
Fresh cherries are far better than dried cherries, however, as the latter contains even higher sugar levels.
Overweight chickens often have difficulty moving around and may even experience problems when laying.
As the fat tends to build up around the liver, it causes the organ to soften which can result in bleeding when laying. This condition is known as Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome and can “kill your hen without much warning.”
Aside from the excess sugar, cherries are very good for your chickens, providing them with vitamins and minerals that are essential for their health.
Cherries contain potassium, for example, which is essential for your chickens’ growth. They also contain calcium, which chickens need to lay eggs, and vitamin A, without which your hens could become weak, causing a drop in egg production.
While chickens may enjoy the shade of a cherry tree as much as they delight in foraging for cherry blossoms and fruit, chicken owners should be cautious about letting them nibble on cherry leaves.
Like the pits, the leaves of the cherry tree contain traces of cyanide.
Fortunately, not all leaves are dangerous and if your chickens pick up a few dried or dead leaves while scratching around in your orchard, they won’t experience any unpleasant side effects.
The only time the leaves become really dangerous is when they are wilting.
This is because the glycosides in the leaves combine with “hydrolytic enzymes” when they wilt, producing prussic acid which inhibits the chicken’s ability to utilize oxygen, causing hypoxia and death.
The Best Way to Serve Cherries to Chickens
If you have cherry trees growing on your homestead, you don’t have to worry too much about creating a fruit salad of healthy deliciousness for your chickens.
If you’re buying cherries to boost your chicken’s nutritional intake, however, combining it with other components is the best way to create a healthy treat that’s both a good source of protein and contains a range of essential nutrients.
A homemade trail mix made up of scratch grains, a few meal worms, some chopped-up cherries, and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds will give you much healthier chickens than if you offer them leftover pizza or other junk food.
Similarly, fresh fruit is far more beneficial to your chickens’ health than three-day-old kitchen scraps or moldy food, both of which could cause potentially fatal digestive problems.
Could Sour Cherries Make My Chickens Choke or Croak?
If you’ve ever wondered, “Can chickens eat chokecherries?” for example, the answer is, confusingly, both yes and no.
While the fleshy part of the fruit is safe to eat, almost every other part of the tree is toxic. The seeds, bark, twigs, and leaves all release cyanide when digested, causing disaster in the chicken coop.
Other kinds of cherries are similarly unsuitable as treats for chickens.
The Jerusalem Cherry, for example, belongs to the nightshade family, and, as such contains alkaloids that can “cause appetite loss, increased salivation, weakened heart rate and trouble breathing.”
It’s important to keep our cherry concerns in context, however, and there are over 1,000 different types of cherry in the world, most of which have health benefits for chickens.
Not only do most species of cherry have anti-inflammatory properties, but they also contain a variety of vitamins that can boost your chickens’ egg production capabilities and keep their digestive tracts operating effectively.
Although we tend to assume that all fresh fruit is as good for our chickens as it is for us, this isn’t always the case.
Take the humble apple, for example. It has good nutritional content but could kill a chicken if not prepared correctly.
Far more dangerous than cherries with pits, apples with their pips still in contain much higher levels of cyanide and could easily wipe out your backyard flock.
Can Chickens Eat Cherries FAQ
So, Can Chickens Eat Cherries?
Just as berries are considered to be human superfoods, so they are a good source of nutrition for your chickens.
Feeding cherries to chickens is a good way to boost their levels of vitamin C and A, although some chicken owners recommend removing the pits before adding them to the feed bucket.
For the most part, chickens are clever enough to avoid the toxic elements and will focus on consuming the juicy flesh of the fruit, rather than concerning themselves with the less palatable and potentially toxic pits of cherries.
While cherries have antioxidant properties, not all fruits are nutrient-dense, and some may have adverse health consequences for your flock.
Apple pips are particularly dangerous, for instance, as are avocado skins and green tomatoes, which contain solanine.
Feeding your chickens the occasional sweet treat brings pleasure to both you and your flock, but too much can lead to obesity and a drop in egg production, so try to balance the sweet cherries with other healthy foods, like pumpkin seeds and oyster shell.
I’m lucky enough that my chickens have access to a variety of different fruits that help to supplement their diets during wintertime when there are fewer bugs and grubs for them to enjoy.
I’m also fortunate enough that they enjoy fruits, like guava, which I detest.
I doubt I’m going to rush out and buy my chickens a punnet of cherries for breakfast but, should an abundance of berries come my way, I’ll happily share them with my feathered friends.